MUMBAI – Jews in Maharashtra state, located in the west-central region of India and best known for its capital city of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, are now an officially recognized minority religion alongside Buddhists, Sikhs, and Christians.
The governments of both the country and the state are in the hands of the BJP, the political wing of India’s strong Hindu nationalist movement, and have been heavily criticized both by spiritual leaders and by human rights groups for their treatment of religious minorities, including both Christians and Muslims.
Most recently, a leading figure in the BJP even criticized Mother Teresa, one of Indian’s most acclaimed national heroes set to be made a saint in September, of plotting to “Christianize” the country.
The hold of the BJP in Maharashtra is sufficiently strong that the state recently imposed a ban on eating beef, given that the cow is considered a sacred animal to Hindus, despite objections from both Christians and Muslims.
With this small move granting official status to its tiny Jewish community, however, the state government can point to at least one positive thing, albeit a relatively symbolic one, it’s done for a non-Hindu religious group.
There are roughly 5,000 Jews in India, and half live in Maharashtra, and the shift to an officially recognized religious minority affords them a handful of privileges they hadn’t previously enjoyed.
For example, there will be some government forms, such as marriage certificates, where “Jew” will be listed when it wasn’t before. Jews will also have the ability to apply for some government programs to preserve their cultural heritage, thereby acquiring funding needed to restore some crumbling monuments.
Jayashree Mukherjee, the principal secretary of the state’s Minority Department, said, “the Jews should have been given (minority status) long back, but somehow they weren’t. “
Asked why they were being given minority status now, she said, “they asked for it now, so we gave it.”
Sometimes it’s just that simple, even in a country as otherwise frequently bewildering as India.